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What Is Technical Writing?

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Jessica Zbeida

on 2 May 2016

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Transcript of What Is Technical Writing?

What Is Technical Writing?
Lannon & Gurak
Lannon & Gurak state, "Technical communication is the exchange of information that helps people interact with technology and solve complex problems" (3).

What does this mean?
What is the
PURPOSE
of technical writing? What
NEEDS
does it serve?
Global Audience
Technical documents need to reflect global and intercultural diversity.

How can we write documents that appeal to readers from various cultures?


Who Cares?
Whatever field you enter, your success depends on your communication skills.


What technical documents might you produce as:
(1). a Doctor, Nurse, Psychologist, etc.?
(2). a Research Scientist or Lab Technician?
(3). a Manager or Administrator?
(4). an Engineer or Architect?
Definition
How do we define technical writing?

Is it the same as scientific writing?

Why do we need to learn how to write technical documents?
Are Technical Writers Human Beings?
People
make information meaningful by
thinking critically
and
asking questions
, such as:
What information is relevant?
Can I verify the source?
What action does it suggest?
With whom should I share it?
How might others interpret it?
How Other Cultures View U.S. Communication Style
Latin America: "Americans are too straightforward, too direct."

Southeast Asia: "To get my respect, American business [people] should know something about [our culture]. But they don't."

Western Europe: "Americans miss the small points."

Central Europe: "Americans tend to oversell themselves."
Features of Technical Communication
Reader-Centered
Your writing should have a "voice," but the needs of your reader come
FIRST.

Ask yourself:
What does my audience need
to learn?
What does my audience need
to do?
What does my audience need
to decide?

Accessible & Efficient
Readers expect to find the information they need and to get questions answered clearly.

An
accessible
and
efficient
document has:
Worthwhile Content
(just what's necessary)
Sensible Organization
(guides the reader)
Readable Style
(promotes fluid reading)
Effective Visuals
(clarify ideas)
Effective Page Design
(headings, lists, etc.)
Supplements
(abstract, glossary, etc.)
Team-Produced
Technical documents are
complex
. Experts from many fields often produce one report, manual, or proposal.

How can we prepare to work in teams?

What are the advantages & disadvantages of this approach?
Writers or Scribes?
Technical writers have been described as "scribes" who objectively convey the "facts."

Is this true? Are technical writers "passive" or "objective"?

Are technical writers creating knowledge as they write?

What ethical issues do technical writers face?
Print & Electronic
You may have to produce technical documents in a variety of media, such as:
Hard Copy (on paper)
PDF, ebook, or other form
Web page or Website
Podcast
Online video
Purposes
Technical documents usually have one of three purposes:
(1) to inform
,
(2) to instruct
, or
(3) to persuade
.
What technical documents might we write:
*to inform readers (provide information)
*to instruct readers (how to do something)
*to persuade (change thinking or action)
How Do I Prepare Effective Technical Documents?
(1) Deliver information readers can use -different people have different needs.

(2). Use persuasive reasoning - your audience will disagree about what something means and what action should be taken.

(3). Weigh ethical issues - unethical communication may alienate your audience or put you/your employer at risk.

(4). Practice cooperation & teamwork - 90% of U.S. workers spend some part of their day in groups/teams ("People" 57).
The Rhetorical Situation
Before you begin writing, you must consider the rhetorical situation. This includes:
PURPOSE
,
AUDIENCE
, and
OCCASION/CONTEXT
.
Audience
Your
AUDIENCE
represents a particular
discourse community
, which is
"a group of people who share certain language-using practices"
(Bizzell qtd. in Lannon & Gurak 17). Begin by
analyzing your audience
; ask yourself:
(1). Who will read, listen to, or use this material?
(2). What special characteristics do they have?
(3). Which discourse community (or communities) do they belong to?
(4). What are their background and attitude toward the subject?

Purpose
Also, you will likely have a
PRIMARY
and a
SECONDARY
audience--their needs may differ.
Before you write, consider the
PURPOSE
of your document. Ask:
(1). Why is it important?
(2). Why is it necessary?
(3). What will users do with this information?
(4). Do the users share common membership in a specific discourse community?

Remember, documents may have a
PRIMARY
and a
SECONDARY
purpose.
Context or Occasion
You should also consider the
CONTEXT
(or occasion) in which the document will be used. Ask yourself:
(1). In what setting will this document be used? (a training session? a website?)
(2). Are there legal issues to consider? (do you need permission to reprint material?)
(3). How much time will people have to use this document? (will they need it in an emergency?)
(4). Is the audience part of a professional community?
(5). Is the audience cross-cultural? Is English an additional language for them?
An Example
Imagine that you work for a company that manufactures and sells power tools. You have been assigned to a team to develop an instruction manual for a jigsaw. Ask yourself:

(1). Who's my primary and secondary audience? How much technical knowledge do they have?
(2). What is the primary and secondary purpose of this document? What will users do with it?
(3). What legal issues might influence this document? When will this document be used?
Audience-Purpose Interview
To define the rhetorical situation, conduct an
audience-purpose interview
.
*Schedule a meeting with people from your primary & secondary audience.
*Take an
Audience Analysis Worksheet
to the meeting (see CGTC p. 25-26).
*Be sure to consider the audience's
(1) level of tech knowledge,

(2) culture & background,

(3) workplace culture,

(4) gender, and
(5) discourse community.
Using Your Analysis
You can use your
Audience Analysis Worksheet
to make smart choices regarding the

WORD CHOICE
EXAMPLES
DOCUMENT FORMAT
LENGTH
DOCUMENT GENRE
and
INFORMATION

to include in your document. Keep in mind that even in technical communication, the process is
DIALOGIC
--people may react to your document in unexpected ways. You may have to modify or revise it based on audience feedback.
Group Discussion: Bad Tech Writing
In small groups, find an example of "bad" tech writing.

What makes it unsuccessful?

What should the writer(s) have done differently?

Did they ignore aspects of the rhetorical situation?
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